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Death Valley, CA. 2015. Canon 5DSr. Click to order a print. Next Field Workshop Death Valley January 23-26, 2016.

Welcome to the December 2015 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

I'm off to Antarctica this month for my 4th journey down there, and as I was thinking through this December Newsletter, the full memories of all of the recent travel made it seem like too big of a task, with no particular ideas for what I might write. As so often happens, the photographs simply drive the narrative forward. As I looked through my recent southwest trip files, it became easy to see this latest journey through my familiar west creating its own story.

This month's View From Here column travels with me across an emerging new west standing alongside the old. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section answers a question that I frequently get, exactly what do I carry in my camera bag.


  • 2016 Winter/Spring Workshop Schedule has been posted with these great courses coming up in January. See Workshop Testimonials.

    Fine Art Printing Join Steve for the high craft hands-on immersion into making your photographs real on paper. Steve has been printing digitally since 1989, longer than anyone teaching printing, and delivers on the promise of education with remarkable clarity and enthusiasm. According to one recent student, the "experience was terrific."

    Death Valley in Winter Explore the beauty of Death Valley's geological wonderland under the soft luminous light of desert winter. Steve has been leading photographic workshops to this desert since 1978. His workshops have been called truly inspiring.

  • 2016 Pacifica Calendar now available.

photo review

Steve in daily group discussion with his December Image Editing Workshop.
Photos by Fiona McDonnell.

Scholarships and Mentoring

As part of our ongoing commitment to photographic education, there is one student scholarship spot in many of our classes. Please pass the word along.

For discounted time studying with Steve, keep in mind our Mentoring Program.

With all of our busy schedules and limited budgets, destination workshops or classes become a challenge, but many of you still have questions you need answered, or feedback on some new work. We want to remind you of our Virtual Online Consulting Program. This service allows all of you out there around the globe to consult online live with Steve on technical, aesthetic and workflow issues using Skype and your webcam.

Our Essays and Tutorials from the past couple of years can now be found on Google Blogger.

We hope you can come by the gallery and see the new Panoramic Prints we've added to the National Parks Gallery, and the Exquisite Earth exhibition with its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1. We invite you to join us on a workshop, rent lab space, or just say hello and let us know what you are up to photographically and what you might like to see us offer. We value your input.


Workshop Testimonials

FEATURED PRINT December 2015


Surf and Birds.

Surf and Birds. Mussel Rock. 2015.
Canon 5DSr

11x13 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each.

The mix of purple, cyan, barely blue and reddish brown sand was such a lovely palette of natural color the the photograph had to be made.

2016 Workshop Schedule
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on. January 16-19, 2016

Death Valley in Winter January 23-26, 2016

Black & White Conversion & Printing: February 27-28, 2016
Golden Gate: March 19-20, 2016
Highway One: May 14-15, 2016
RAW to Print Bootcamp: June 6-10, 2016

printing class

Waiting for Moonrise on Cadillac Mountain. Acadia Workshop. 2015. Peter J Sucy..

Speaking Events (see below)

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Agave. Desert Botanical Garden. Phoenix, AZ. 2015. Canon 5Dsr

The soft bluish light of this rainy day created an unusual blend of cool color onto this desert garden. The natural forms seemed endless.


Purchase a print of this photograph


Cadillac Ranch. Amarillo, TX. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

by Stephen Johnson

Visions of an Emerging New West amid the Old

Traveling from Ft. Worth Texas through southern Colorado onto Phoenix gave me a window into the west I know, aging, and a newer emerging west. This new west I'm seeing glimpses of is still rurally grounded but coming into a new world of independence and technology.

Some of the sights were wistful, others encouraging, some could have been easily seen on my first trip through in 1977. The wander itself was fascinating. As always, the vastness of the American West is almost overwhelming, the road very long. As a child of the American West it is also simultaneously deeply familiar.


Cowgirl Museum. Ft. Worth, TX. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

Western iconography has long fascinated me. I am a product of it, both real and mythical. My world view was initially shaped by images of vast horizons, rugged outdoorsmen, almost extreme independence and a blur of manhood evolving from cowboy to astronaut.

When I move across the west on my photographic journeys, it is often like moving around home, but still alien as well. I get immersed in John Ford mythology, my own family history and the breakaway 1960's in which I came of age. It is both embrace and distance––a kind of forever coming to terms with what made me, and who I actually am. Not to mention who I want to be.

Photography can be a compelling instrument of self-exploration.


Big Sky Oasis. Rest Stop on Highway 287. Hardeman County. Texas. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

Photography can also make you see differently, and think about what you see in alternative contexts. I know I think about symbols and their visual manifestations that tell larger stories. The Rest Stop up on the Texas expanse heading to Amarillo, becomes not just an oasis for road relief, but a construct of modernism onto what seems like much older human occupation.


Donley Cotton Gin. Lelia, Texas Panhandle. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.


The New West. Texas Panhandle. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

As the road got longer and lonelier, it seemed a new world was creeping into the landscape. Where once old decaying windmill water-pumps were scattered across the west, now sleek huge propellers spin across this land, producing power from the movement of the air across these plains. It's poetic.

Still more propeller blades were loaded on Semi Trailer Rigs rolling by on the highways. Something seems to be afoot. Renewable energy and fierce rural independence seem to be blending into a new western reality.

I may be over-reading it as well.



American Dinosaur. Amarillo. Texas. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

My Western Artifacts series was drifting through my mind as the parade of expanse stretched out across flat horizons. When more of our peculiar roadside attractions popped up, the rental car seemed to home in, with a few improvised turn-arounds and likely quizzical expressions on my face.



Tepee on Route 66. Tucumcari, New Mexico. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.


Danford Dan's Music Shop after Fire. Tucumcari, New Mexico. 2015.

Driving around Tucumcari felt like moving though a time warp, perhaps even a color version of the Twilight Zone. From the classic train depot, to a very lonely old downtown, and the historic Route 66 right through the south side of town, Tucumcari is a good wander.

...continued top of right column of the essay


Great Sand Dunes National Park. Colorado. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

Visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado has been on my agenda since my first sand dune experience in Death Valley. On this trip I was determined to take a look around, even if needing to rout my Ft. Worth to Phoenix trip way northward.

The dunes are huge, and very different than I had seen before. It was clear to me I had to come back, with 4-wheel drive, to really explore and camp, to actually get to know this place a bit. This visit was only a touch.

I had not been to Taos in nearly twenty years, and so in my circuitous wanderings I planned a long arc up into Colorado from Texas, then back down to New Mexico through Taos and Santa Fe. As is most always the case, I didn't know what might turn up along the way.


Earthship Site near Taos, New Mexico. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

On my way south to Taos, I came across a most curious place, Earthship Biotechture, complete with Visitor Center. It is an earth friendly construction company/community that specializes in earth friendly energy independent housing and sustainable long-term occupancy. Although not related, it reminded me of the Arcosanti site south of Sedona. Taking the tour was fascinating with great promise and concrete reality in evidence.

Coming over the hill into Taos reminded me of past trips as I came over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. A Rest Stop is perched on its north side, making it a perfect site for photographing the the great arch of steel. I doubt I added anything to my previous photographs, or those of countless others, but it is always good to see such a strange confluence of natural and man-made form. I have always been struck at how these elements seem to meld in some inexplicable way.


Totem. Kiva Coffee Shop. Santa Fe. NW.. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

At breakfast in the Taos Kachina Lodge, I discovered what most visitors probably already knew, the motel coffee shop is built around an awesome Totem. Carved in 1962, the totem completely dominates the space and I found it delightful, even if not seeming terribly authentic. It fit the coffee shop perfectly.


Cholla Power plant. Joseph City. Arizona. 2015.
Canon 5DSr. See Video.

West of Holbrook Arizona, I came across a huge coal-fired power plant, pouring steam into the air, and was completely drawn into the rising, billowing white steam. The irony of power being pulled out of this desert, from the organic fecundity of ancient life turned to coal, was not lost on me. Coupled with all of the wind turbines I had been seeing along the way, the contrast of this huge power plant was startling.

In looking up the Cholla Power plant, I found some of it is scheduled to be shut down, and some units may yet convert to natural gas.

I couldn't help but run some video of the smokestacks billowing upward.

In between lectures at Sun City, AZ and Arizona State University in Tempe, I spent a day at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. It was a wonderful experience. Although the cover provided by the rented umbrella proved critical for the day, the light from the rain was soft and beautiful.

The Gardens will make a huge contribution to my Life Form Project and will take quite some time to fully assess what I manged to photograph there. I know walking its paths was a visual gift of organic form and strange color in the bluish light of the day.


Desert Botanical Garden. Tempe, Arizona. 2015

Canon 5DSr.

There were so many stops along the way, Meteor Crater, Sedona, a horse mural in one New Mexico town, native American and pioneer scenes on what looked like grain storage bins in another town, and so many more. Some may show up in future newsletters, but there are just too many to include here.

I fear this column sometimes becomes mere travelogue. Of course, I guess I could also ask what's wrong with that? Maybe I think I should be coming up with profound conclusions from my wanderings. Profundity usually escapes me, but photographic wandering captivates me. And, of course, my chosen medium is photography.

I hope the illustrated writing about the wandering is of some value. Please let me know.

Recently at SJ Photo

A new Life Form photograph.


Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens. 2015.
Canon 5DSr.

The Life Form project drew me back in as I traveled. From the Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens to Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden. I am hooked on these forms.

please email your comments to us



Consulting Programs and Speaking Events

Virtual Education: Our Virtual Consulting and Mentoring Program is working well. Readers of this Newsletter can still get a discount by mentioning this reference when you enroll.

Our One on One Program links you up with Steve at his bay area studio, or when he is on the road near you. Keep an eye on when Steve will be near your town.

Catch Steve Live: Steve will be speaking here and there over the next  few months.

  • Pacifica: At the Gallery
    Come by and talk with Steve about his ongoing Exhibitions of work on display

Canon Sponsors Steve to speak at Universities, Colleges, Photo Groups and various events around the country. If you would like more information on arranging for Steve to do a Canon sponsored event, go to: Canon SJ EOL talk


Steve Lecturing at Photo Plus. New York City. October 2014.

Custom Workshop Scheduling

People often want to take workshops and the dates just don't match up with their schedules. Sometimes they watch the newsletter and webpage for years for their interest, free time and the workshop to all coincide. We've decided to be proactive in creating a forum for potential students to tell us what you need and when you can take a class. Please email us with workshop ideas and suggestions.

More formally, we are experimenting with a workshop poll to determine when interested people can make particular workshops they really want to take.

Currently we have up a few workshops to experiment:

Workshop Polls Homepage


In My Camera Bag


I get questions about what I always keep with me in the normal course of my photographic work.

What do I always have with me in my 35mm format DSLR Camera Bag?

  • Canon 5DSr camera
  • Canon 70-200mm f4
  • Canon 16-25mm
  • Canon 24-105mm
  • memory card case with extra cards
  • 4 extra camera batteries
  • Canon GPS-2
  • Canon 1.4x tele-extender
  • Canon Extension tube
  • printed camera manual
  • Wired Remote release
  • HoodmanViewing Loupe
  • X-rite Color Checker Passport
  • USB Camera cable
  • Lightning Bug
  • Lens cleaning packets
  • Lens tissue
  • AA batteries
  • compressed air
  • rain hood for lens
  • small plastic trash bag for rain protection
  • First Aid instructions
  • extra pair of reading glasses
  • extra tripod quick release adapters
  • hot shoe multi orientation bubble level
  • microphone
  • wireless audio transmitter and receiver with lavaliere mike
  • extra business cards
  • National Park Service Photo Policy printout

Items I would like to add to the Bag

  • daylight visible laser range finder

Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts



Camera Bag and some of the contents.

The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

Featured Products


2016 Pacifica Calendar

2016 Pacifica Calendar

2106 Pacifica Calendar by Stephen Johnson. 12 photo calendar month pages plus 7 full page photos and Trail Map. 11x17 vertical. No hole punch.

Find out more on MagCloud



gift certificate

Gift Certificates for Prints and Workshops!

Emailed or shipped with beautiful gift notecard.


Life Form Note cards

5x7 inches,



Click to Purchase

12 image Note card set with envelopes featuring photographs from Steve's new Life Form work.

Printed by Steve in his studio in very limited numbers on a color laser digital press


gift certificate

National Park Note cards

note card

National Park Color Note card Set
Stephen Johnson
12 cards/envelopes $20 set

From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.


gift certificate



Please come visit us at our gallery and see our original prints in person. The subtle detail of the prints and the beautiful texture of the fine art paper have to be seen to be understood. And while you're here, browse through our books, cards, posters, and specially priced prints.

We're happy to mail you a copy of our product catalog, just send a note to or call us.

We're located at:

Stephen Johnson Photography at the Pacifica Center for the Arts
1220-C Linda Mar Boulevard, Creekside Suites, 5-7
Pacifica, CA 94044
(650) 355-7507



Pacifica Center for the Arts from Linda Mar Boulevard

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Stephen Johnson Photography at the Pacifica Center for the Arts
1220-C Linda Mar Boulevard, Creekside Suites, 5-7
Pacifica, CA 94044 650 355-7507

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Last updated on December 7, 2015 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2015, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide